Sloughing Toward Bethlehem, first published in 1968 is a collection of essays depicting things, people and places of that era. Joan Didion, the author, born and raised in Sacramento California, gives her readers a sense of belonging , happiness and thinking ability as she portrays things about herself and the culture she knew and grew to know. In her essay "On Going Home" she tells the story of her departing home to her big family and the wonderful experience she was about to have. "I am home for my daughter's first birthday." (p. 134). She began by expressing what "home" is to her and the only obstacle that was preventing her from feeling happiness to the max. Her husband says she becomes "difficult, oblique, deliberately, inarticulate," (p. 164). The way she expresses herself, was more like a dream to her as she sung praises to her culture that cannot be compared to the life in existing America. In her essay, she shows how she enjoys being near her family, especially her daughter despite the apprehension she receives from her husband.
As part of a class assignment, this paper will highlight the literary elements that existed in the essay and why Didion was always so contented despite the reality that she shouldn't.
With the theme of happiness and reminiscence, written in the point of view of the first person, Joan showed that she was unhappy about going home to her husband. The way she described him, made the reader hated and saw him as a man that treated women like garbage. He was the lazy type, not caring to lift a straw and naïve too. Almost all the things that were spoken in the house were spoken in codes and he did not understand one bit or care to do. Joan on the other hand was very excited to go home to her family since the most significant event of her daughter's birthday was of vital importance. Her husband liked her family but was uneasy because he didn't like the ways of his wife since they did not match his.
My husband likes my family but is uneasy in their house, because once there I fall into their ways, which are difficult, oblique, deliberately inarticulate, not my husband's ways. (p. 164).
Her marriage was like a classical betrayal and she thinks she was born into the last generation where the burden of the home was thrown on the women.
In her pledge to show expressions, Joan uses quotation marks to emphasize how deep her feelings were. For instance, when she talked about coming "home", that showed how eager she was to reach and although she was trying to express a sense of happiness, that was foreshadowing her pain. Pained by the way she misses her family and by the way she feels about facing her husband. In the essay, she talked about a "symbol," a layer of dust that was building up in her parents' home. That dust also foreshadowed emptiness and lack of communication that she wanted to forget. She also used this dust as a symbol to see how invisible and odd her husband was. He did not fit in the family thus he was not compatible to her since there was nothing that he understood and he didn't understand her either.
We live in dusty houses ("D-U-S-T," he once wrote with his finger on surfaces all over the house, but no one noticed it) filled with mementos quite without value to him (what could the Canton dessert plates mean to him? How could he have known about the assay scales, why should he care if he did know?) (p. 164)
Didion expresses different moods as she writes. She wants the reader to feel happy but she also has a side that illustrates sadness especially when she talks about good times. "We miss each other's points, have another drink and regard the fire" (165).
On arriving home, her parents also showed that they too did not want to disturb that symbol of dust and preferred to let things remain the way they were. The essay had a lot of modulations to it as she kept repeating the phrase" would like" which showed that she wanted something so badly and she wished she had done things differently.
Didion talked about codes in her essay but she too was writing in codes as the whole thesis was based on codes. For example, when she talked about her family and how happy she was to get home, she was a actually leaving it up to the reader to pick sense out of nonsense and draw their own winding up as her family were not as united and communicable as she articulated. She was not happy like the meaning of the word happy. She tried to express it by using words such as "oblique, deliberately inarticulate" (164). However to widen the mind of her audience and make her book interesting, she expressed herself in a different way. Her words were not to be left hanging in the wind but rather for the reader to ponder over them. Her mood said it also; she spoke in a tone that almost appeared as if she was a mad woman. She was supposed to be feeling unhappy to return home but she made it sound as if she was happy. The only happy gesture that was real was when she spoke about her daughter. She missed her daughter and although she missed her extended family, she wouldn't feel the urge to return home if it was not for her daughter. No wonder she expressed herself as being a lost soul. (p. 10).
- Didion, Joan. "Slouching Toward Bethlehem." Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1968